An antisemitic response to the Hamas-Israel war

(Updated 23rd of July)

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is deeply concerned by the increased level of antisemitism being spread on social media as a result of the current conflict between Hamas and Israel. Yesterday afternoon we wrote to a charity based in Victoria after their Facebook page posted an antisemitic image comparing Israeli policies to that of the Nazis. The post led to further antisemitic postings in some of the replies to the intial post. This incident highlights an important message: unless we are vigilant, hate speech can slip through. It’s particularly important for charities to do everything they can to avoid that happening, but also to have corrective processes in place, and to be willing to listen to concerns, when the occasional mistake inevitably happen. We’re please that in this instance within 24 hours of us write to the charity concerned and explaining the problem, the content was removed.

At this time of heightened tensions, this antisemitic post made by the otherwise well respected charity received over 5,000 likes and over 3,500 shares. It also attracted significant discussion about the conflict, including a number of antisemitic comments and one anti-Muslim comment in response. Local charities should not be stepping outside their remit in order to make posts that have the potential to stir up racial hatred. This is doubly true when the posts themselves plug into community tensions and are (intentionally or not) capitalising on distress overseas to increase social media engagement.

Comments made to the page in response to the charity’s post did indeed promote antisemitism. Jewish power conspiracies were present, such as the comment saying that “Israel and China… wield great financial influence over America, one directly, the other by implication”. Other comments sought to compare Jews to Nazis, one said, “there is no other name for this but genocide. A new holocaust. For a people who went through one under Hitler, they haven’t learnt much”. The charity also made its Facebook page a home for those posting links to antisemitic websites. Even the Livingstone Formulation made an appearance with one poster writing “Then I spoke out for Palestinians and I was labelled anti-semitic”, a trite way of dismissing and then ignoring legitimate concerns of antisemitism.

The post itself included a cartoon published in The Age in 2012, and the Anti-Defamation Commission highlighted the antisemitic nature of the cartoon back when it was first published. The cartoon, by Leunig, is based on the poem “First they came…” attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller. The poem is strongly identified with the Holocaust and the rounding up of various groups targeted by the Nazis. In Leunig’s version they come for the Palestinians over and over. The re-publishing of this cartoon at this time by the charity makes it a comment on the current situation, and that comment is a comparison between the current Israeli policies and Nazi persecution.

Under the Working Definition of Antisemitism, “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is an example of modern antisemitism. The Working Definition was produced by the European Union Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia and has since been adopted by the US State Department, the British Police, and others. It is also adopted as part of the London Declaration Against Antisemitism. The cartoon undoubtable makes this comparison and therefore has antisemitic undertones, but these undertones are exacerbated by the timing of its republication on Facebook.

There has already been one attack on a Jewish man in the streets of Melbourne as a result of the current conflict. In France the situation is far worse with eight attacks on synagogues. Protests have spilled over into violence, or threatened to do so, and local Jewish communities have been targeted around the world. In the UK the number of antisemitic incidents has doubled as a result of the current conflict. Antisemitic slogans are again being chanted on the streets of Germany. Civil society in Australia needs to work together to minimise local tensions.

In our letter to the charity concerned, OHPI explained the problem both with their initial post and with the manner in which it raises tension in the local community. We asked the charity to remove the post, which they have now done. With thousands of shares this won’t see the content vanish, but it has remove the charity’s endorsement of it. Without that endorsement, hopefully others who see the cartoon being spread are a little more sceptical, and a little more hesitant to share something that is on its face antisemitic in nature.